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Posts Tagged ‘netbook

Do you remember netbooks? I am referring to those small, underpowered computers that emerged like desert blooms only to disappear almost as quickly as they appeared.

I not only remember them, I still have one gathering dust in a drawer. I will probably salvage its hard drive and repurpose it for networked storage. I also had a few others that I used in a research project about five years ago. They have been since wiped clean and condemned.

The netbook might have been ahead of its time. They were small, relatively light, cheap, and powerful enough to browse the web. While people complained about the small keyboard, it was useful for kids and adults with really small hands.

Now consider the rise of the Chromebook. CNET declares As Chromebooks catch on, 2014 promises more models.

Might we see another boom and bust? What is different about the rise of another series of seemingly underpowered devices?

Between the netbook and the Chromebook were multitouch devices like the iPhone and slate devices.

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People have come to expect to manipulate objects on the screen by touch. You can see this in young children who try to manipulate any screen this way or the behavior of people at malls with TV directories.

People have also learnt to divide what they do according to the device they have at hand. Previously people used to complain that an iPad was not a PC. Now they have learnt what they can do better on an iPad than on a PC, e.g., read, follow a hashtag while watching TV, have a FaceTime conversation, or even some forms of gaming. Lean forward activities happen on a PC; lean back activities happen on slates.

People also realize that devices need only be powerful enough or have enough capacity. It used to only be about processor speed, amount of memory, or storage space. Now, it is about cloud computing, cloud storage, wireless access, and streaming in real-time.

Netbooks lived in a Windows XP world. That was the world of the PC with point and click, typing, and locally housed programs and files. Usability and performance were poor and you got the feeling that you were sending in a boy to do a man’s job. Despite being called netbooks, going online to conduct some worthwhile activity over an extended period seemed to be an afterthought.

Chromebooks have a new ecosystem to flourish in. Chromebooks have the might of Google behind them and Google’s Apps, OS, and web browser system. The whole point of Chromebooks is to dwell in the cloud. It is the return of the thin client.

I think that Chromebooks that keep costs low while catering to niche markets (like education or even some enterprise systems) are more likely to succeed. These are markets where the limitations of the device are not weaknesses but strengths or even desirable traits.

What might cause Chromebooks to go the way of netbooks? It is hard to say. But I would wager that a couple of non-Chromebook factors determine its fate.

The first is the availability of ubiquitous wifi, or in its absence, 3G/4G/LTE connections. Most Chromebooks do not have the latter, and if they do, they are an added initial and longer term cost.

The second is the fickle mindset of users. One might argue that it is just as easy to read, respond to hashtags on TV, video conference, or game on a fully featured laptop. If they already have a device that is lean forward and lean back, why get another that offers a subset of the performance? It must become socially and culturally acceptable or expected to do certain things on certain devices.

Google needs to sell that idea the same way Apple sold (and continues to sell) their devices as lifestyle products. They need to convincingly complete the remainder of this sentence: You need this Chromebook because…

Third, Google needs to stop sabotaging itself. Its cloud-based apps are key to its success. Anything linked to it and the Chromebook contribute to its success. If Google keeps taking away things like Google Reader, or tweaks YouTube and Google Sites so regularly or infrequently that certain features do not work in its own Chrome browser, then this antagonizes and alienates their users.

I would love to see Google Chromebooks succeed especially if their low cost enables social good. Unlike netbooks, they have a better ecosystem and timing. But Google needs to tackle factors like user access, mindsets, and experience if it does not want to go the way of the netbook dodo.

It was a from a talk by Peter Reimann of the University of Sydney that I heard about a programme in Australia to enable 1:1 computing among students.

Then I found this YouTube video about how students in New South Wales, Australia, would receive Lenovo netbooks in Year 9. If they do well academically by the time they were in Year 12, they keep them.

It sounds like it is not just a technology distribution programme but one that also focuses on technical support, cyberwellness and multiple opportunities for learning.

More information about the NSW Digital Education Revolution here and here (PDF).

Good on ya, mates!

Here’s an article on an emerging technology: Smartbooks. So how are they different from netbooks?

Netbooks are made by computer companies (using Intel chips) while smartbooks will be made by mobile phone chip providers (like Qualcomm). While both are made for computing on the move, netbooks still function like mini laptop computers. Smartbooks are more likely to be touchscreen and instant-on devices, just like smartphones.

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Intel has an operating system for netbooks.

Why? Why not? As Gizmodo points out, if phones and laptops have their own operating systems, why not netbooks?

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How can education ignore netbooks? From this Yahoo! Tech article:

Microsoft recognizes that it cannot afford to ignore the netbook niche, which is the only global PC market segment recording significant growth. According to iSuppli, global shipments rose by a staggering 2,424 percent in 2008 and are poised to grow an additional 68.5 percent this year.

It is an opportunity for netbook vendors to offer great deals to schools and for schools to enable 1:1 computing among students. I have met a few vendors and netbook representatives to try to convince them or to set up subsequent meetings for further discussion respectively. I have not heard from them for months.

And schools are still setting up white elephant computer labs or doing technology refreshes of said labs. That model of teaching is increasingly irrelevant given the mobile technologies we have now!

I feel for Chris Dawson when he describes how he has to stretch every dollar for his school, particularly in these bad times. He laments: “just how do we get on the list for retooling to meet 21st Century needs?”

In contrast, schools in Singapore have lots of money to provide infrastructure and training. I wrote about this previously and I agree wholeheartedly that cheap netbooks, wireless networks, and 1:1 computing are the way to go.

Our schools have computer labs… which remain under or improperly utilised! Computers need to be a norm in classrooms. One way is for schools to invest in mobile labs like the one offered by Apple.

Why? If going to a computer lab remains a novelty, then technology is not mainstream and integrated sufficiently. If, on the other hand, the technology can be so commonly called upon to enable or support learning, it becomes natural and transparent. I think that Dawson articulated similar thoughts (but better than I have) in another blog entry.

So it looks like we have different factors leading to the same problem. Chris might have an infrastructure problem; Singapore schools have a mindset issue. Both prevent us from promoting learning for the 21st century.

The laptop celebrates 40 years, so says this Wired article. More accurately, the concept of the laptop is 40-years-old.

In the interview, Alan Kay, who first conceptualised the laptop, was reported to say:

my thoughts about an intimate personal computer were mostly of a service nature – that is, how could and should it act as an amplifier for human, especially child, endeavors?

So we have laptops, UMPCs and netbooks today. The cost of netbooks in particular are dropping and will continue to drop. Why are more of them not in the hands of learners? Why are educators needlessly clinging on to outdated mindsets and not using innovative ways of teaching and learning with netbooks?

And speaking of netbooks, let’s recall how Asus took the lead in producing what seemed ridiculous at the time. A small, underpowered but cheap and portable netbook for the consumer masses. Why? Because they could. Then netbooks from Asus and other companies became a roaring success and netbooks even topped Amazon notebook sales in September this year.

From a link in Dawson’s blog entry, I read that Asus may be phasing out the smaller ones to focus on larger, more powerful units. Why? Because they can. Dawson bemoaned the fact that Asus might lose the education market. Then again, what computer company thinks of the education market?

I think we will use whatever is available. After all, educators co-opted Microsoft Office, a product designed for business use. Look where that led us. Hmm, low level tasks, PowerPoint pedagogy, and form over substance.

Maybe Dawson has a point after all…


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